ACF Nationals Discussion

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ACF Nationals Discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sun Apr 01, 2007 9:38 pm

Okay, well...I had a fine time at nationals, answered some questions, proved how intermittently incompetent and occasionally utterly useless I am by failing to answer other questions, etc. But, aside from those inevitabilities...quite frankly, I thought this year's version of nats was less than stellar. It was a solid event, but nowhere near what should be acf nationals quality.

The most glaring problem to me was that bonus difficulty was all over the place. Lumped together as an average, I think the difficulty of the bonuses was actually very appropriate. Individually, though, they were not very consistent at all. The easiest illustration of this were the several windfall 30s that happened...to cite a few examples I can remember: idun/bragi/thiazzi, brandywine/howe/anthony wayne, aldol condensation/claisen condensation/dieckmann condensation...there were at least a handful of others. I really couldn't believe I was hearing these rather ho-hum bonuses at nationals.

Second is the issue of tossup difficulty and answer selection in general. Now, personally, I was of the minority opinion that last year's nats was slightly on the easy side and this year's nats was significantly easier than that. But, I'll put aside my own general feelings of where difficulty should be for this tournament. Even so, there were a number of tossups where my reaction was "seriously, this is really a tossup at acf nats?" Some examples spring to mind: a barebones tossup on the Nernst Equation, a tossup about the two Red Rivers, your standard Clausius-Clapeyron fare, an amateurish tossup on "the frontier," and a smattering of others I can't quite recall at the moment. I thought initially that maybe a lot of this was just a consequence of what was submitted on the whole, but the editors packets didn't make me much happier. The concept and common link tossups (with the exception of a few - Quixote was okay) were mostly terrible. Now, I like and have written many of these sorts of tossups, and they have their useful appeal. But, I don't see the need to often employ them at this tournament, where the difficulty barrier is high enough to just write straight-up on certain topics themselves. Instead of the violence tossup, for instance, just write it on Georges Sorel...instead of pigs, just write on Pryderi.

I have a few other quibbles too, but perhaps I'll wait for awhile to raise them. Again, I had a decent time, as I've had at all competent acf events since I started playing. But, ACF nats is a tournament that I really enjoy playing, and this year's version left me underwhelmed; the editing seemed unimpressive and it just didn't feel like nats.

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Post by grapesmoker » Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:10 pm

Well, first I'll just say thanks to Vanderbilt for a very well-run tournament, and to Zeke, Andrew, Paul, and Adam for their editing work.

I'll offer a contrary opinion and say that I enjoyed this tournament very much. I think the vast majority of the questions were great, and even the science (at least the physics, anyway) was really good, and I always bitch about that.

The one thing I'll agree with Ryan about is the somewhat uneven difficulty of the bonuses. It seemed like many of the lit bonuses were disproportionately difficult, while others could be a gift 30 for a decent team. I wish there had been less disparity in bonus difficulty, but despite all that, it was a great (and definitely educational) tournament.
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Post by Mike Bentley » Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:48 pm

Some thoughts on the distribution at the tournament:

I am completely confused how this tournament could have zero computer science tossups. That is ridiculous. Out of fourteen packets we heard three bonuses on computer science related topics, one of them being on quantum computing which really strikes me more as a physics type subject anyways. I'm not sure if this was a product of the teams not submitting packets with such tossups, the editors not feeling these tossups were important, or some other factor.

I realize that geography didn't come up very much, but it still seems like the 1/1 per packet or so of geography really could go towards encompassing more "academic" topics. I can't say that I saw anyone buzzing in before the FTP clue on most of these tossups, and it was very rare that a team would get more than 10 points on a geography bonus. Trash also seemed out of place at this tournament. I enjoy trash a good deal, but it seems at a tournament such as this, the packets would benefit from having that extra 1/1 or so per packet address some of the niche academic subjects that don't get covered as much.

The Supreme Court (and I guess law in general) came up a surprisingly little amount at this tournament. I can't remember a tossup on anything related to the Supreme Court, and I really only remember one bonus that mentioned cases like Korematsu (and maybe one on Chase that was somewhat related). I guess one can argue that these things are overrepresented at other tournaments, but 0/1-0/2 out of an entire tournament seems pretty drastic.

Also, until people start writing about more common-link documents, I don't think that tossups on Pragmatic Sanctions should really be written anymore. They are just far too transparent, as "so and so issued one of these to address x and y" have essentially become reflex buzzers on Pragmatic Sanctions.

Forthcoming will be my thoughts on the difficulty of this tournament. Overall I felt it was as hard as I thought it would be, but I don't really think that it's necessary to have it this hard (especially when you look at how comparatively easy the tournament was in 2004). Once I can actually coherently articulate my opinion (5 hours of sleep and 11 hour car rides FTW), I'll respond in greater detail.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Apr 02, 2007 12:07 am

Just to preempt you, any suggestion that this tournament was objectively hard by nationals standards is absurd. I'd call this a greatly (too greatly, imo) peeled back version of nationals. You can't just look at 2004 and say "that's easier" - of course it is, people learn things and the canon pushes outward. Tournaments even a couple years ago tend to be exponentially "easier" in absolute terms, but not at all in relative terms.

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Post by Sima Guang Hater » Mon Apr 02, 2007 2:37 am

I'll echo Jerry's comments and say that I enjoyed this tournament greatly, though I can't speak too much about the difficulty (I put up points, I was happy). Thanks to vandy and the editors and readers for a great time.

There were however, a few very transparent tossups here and there that kind of caught me off guard. The Nernst equation tossup comes to mind, and also the Water Margin, Cysteine, and a few others that have already been mentioned. There are definitely much harder clues about those things (the leadin for the Nernst equation was almost word for word a leadin clue from SCT; same with cysteine). And not only did the bonus difficulty tend to fluctuate, the tossup difficulty did too; I really don't expect Aaron Burr and electrospray ionization to come up in the same packet (did ANYONE get the electrospray ionization tossup?), nor the Brandenburg Concertos and that neutron beam generator thingy that Evan Nagler explained to me.

I also greatly enjoyed the Trinucleotide Repeat Disorders bonus; you don't hear about spinocerebellar ataxia nearly enough for my taste.

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Post by MLafer » Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:26 am

ikillkenny wrote:Some thoughts on the distribution at the tournament:

I am completely confused how this tournament could have zero computer science tossups. That is ridiculous. Out of fourteen packets we heard three bonuses on computer science related topics, one of them being on quantum computing which really strikes me more as a physics type subject anyways. I'm not sure if this was a product of the teams not submitting packets with such tossups, the editors not feeling these tossups were important, or some other factor.
I edited comp sci. There were several comp sci tossups that I submitted to the main editors. If they weren't put in the packet, or were put late, or put in a packet that wasn't used, that isn't my fault. For the record:

Tossups:
lambda calculus
Bayesian networks (most clues were comp sci)
B-tree


Bonuses:

-quantum computing bonus, which had a question on C-NOT, Shor's algorithm, and another algorithm. I don't see how gates and algorithms are physics.
-algorithm bonus (Monte Carlo, greedy, pohlig-hellman)
-computation theory bonus: savitch's etc.
-encryption bonus



That's 3/4, which, while not a lot, is not zero. For the editor's packets (of which there were 4) i wrote 1/1 comp sci, 1/1 astro, 1/1 earth science, and 1/1 math, which i feel is a fair distribution. As for submissions, if a question was at least decent I tried to re-write it and keep it in. There was definitely more math and astronomy than comp sci submitted to us.

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Post by Mike Bentley » Mon Apr 02, 2007 12:03 pm

MLafer wrote:
ikillkenny wrote:Some thoughts on the distribution at the tournament:

I am completely confused how this tournament could have zero computer science tossups. That is ridiculous. Out of fourteen packets we heard three bonuses on computer science related topics, one of them being on quantum computing which really strikes me more as a physics type subject anyways. I'm not sure if this was a product of the teams not submitting packets with such tossups, the editors not feeling these tossups were important, or some other factor.
I edited comp sci. There were several comp sci tossups that I submitted to the main editors. If they weren't put in the packet, or were put late, or put in a packet that wasn't used, that isn't my fault. For the record:

Tossups:
lambda calculus
Bayesian networks (most clues were comp sci)
B-tree


Bonuses:

-quantum computing bonus, which had a question on C-NOT, Shor's algorithm, and another algorithm. I don't see how gates and algorithms are physics.
-algorithm bonus (Monte Carlo, greedy, pohlig-hellman)
-computation theory bonus: savitch's etc.
-encryption bonus



That's 3/4, which, while not a lot, is not zero. For the editor's packets (of which there were 4) i wrote 1/1 comp sci, 1/1 astro, 1/1 earth science, and 1/1 math, which i feel is a fair distribution. As for submissions, if a question was at least decent I tried to re-write it and keep it in. There was definitely more math and astronomy than comp sci submitted to us.
Perhaps those tossups all came up in the packets that weren't used. I'm sure that B-Tree and Lambda Calculus didn't come up, and I'm pretty sure that Bayesian networks didn't (although I'm not postive). As mentioned, we heard the algorithms, encyption and quantum computing bonuses, but not the computation theory bonus. I cannot recall hearing any computer science in any of the editor's packets. As I don't have the packets yet, it's possible that bonuses were in there that we didn't get to. But as far as I recall there were not any tossups in the editor's packets either.

As for quantum computing: You're right. I was remembering wrong about the second and third parts being on algorithms. I guess I more accurately should have described the gates question as "computer or electrical engineering" which is more of a hybrid between computer science and electronics.
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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Apr 02, 2007 1:11 pm

I wanted to offer a few thoughts in response to the preliminary phase of the discussion.

First, the overall difficulty. At the end of every tournament, people will offer their subjective assessments of the tournament's difficulty. This is not the first time that "It was too hard!" and "It was SOOO EASY!" were the initial responses to a tournament. While these comments may be interesting as a reflection of the poster's gut response, they are perhaps not entirely indicative of the tournament's actual difficulty. For a better gauge, we might look to the numbers put up by the teams who played at the tournament. The final standings show that only one team at this year's nationals -- the undefeated champion -- put up more than 300 ppg or 16 ppb. To me, that effectively overrules the claim that the tournament was "too easy." On the other hand, 9 of the 27 teams managed to score 200 ppg, and 17 of the 27 teams managed to score at least 10 ppb (and those averages include playoff games, which featured harder questions). One could still argue from those numbers that the tournament was too hard, but I would contend that they compare favorably with previous ACF nationals. For instance, if we look at the 2005 ACF nationals (which by the standards of anyone, save perhaps Ryan Westbrook, really was very hard) we see that only four teams (of 21) managed to break the 200 ppg barrier, and only five managed to pull 10 ppb. Obviously, people are going to disagree about whether the tournament hit its "ideal difficulty," but on the basis of the numbers it's hard to say that the tournament difficulty was completely out of whack.

Second, the notion of "fluctuating difficulty, as indicated by questions on Aaron Burr." I feel as though I've dealt with this a hundred times, but here's the 101st. THE TOPIC OF A QUESTION IS NOT AN INDEX OF THE QUESTION'S DIFFICULTY. It is possible to write an "easy" tossup on a topic that is, by most standards, rather obscure. If you lead off your George Gissing tossup with a sentence about his best-known work, New Grub Street, then you've just written an easy tossup on him, even though he is an obscure figure and many teams won't answer the question at all. By contrast, if you lead off your Aaron Burr tossup with several sentences of obscure clues that very few people will know, then you've just written a hard tossup on him, even though he is a well-known figure and many teams will be able to answer the question at the end. The answer space at ACF fall and the answer space at ACF nationals are not completely distinct. Rather, the former is a subset of the latter. Anything that comes up at ACF fall as an answer could also be an answer at ACF nationals; only the clues will be different. Again: IT IS THE CLUES THAT DETERMINE DIFFICULTY, NOT THE ANSWERS.

Third, uneven bonus difficulty. Here, I will agree that bonus difficulty did fluctuate, but mostly between rounds. There were some rounds that were much harder than others, in which any bonus 30s would be exceedingly hard-won. There were other rounds in which the bonuses were relatively easy, and you didn't need to be a grad student in a given field to have any hopes of pulling 30 on a bonus in that area. Obviously, it would be ideal if the difficulty were more homogenous over the whole tournament (as perhaps it was, at a very high level, in 2005). Then again, it would also be ideal if teams submitted their packets by the final deadline, so that editors would have time to go back and make those laborious adjustments. Instead, a substantial percentage of teams (including many of the best teams, with the most experienced question writers) decided that the rules didn't apply to them, and only sent us questions well after the final deadline had elapsed. Guess what? We didn't have time to do more than adjust difficulty on a round-by-round basis. I'm sorry about that, but all the unexcusably tardy question writers have to shoulder some of the blame here.

I have more to say, but perhaps I'll stop at this for now and let the discussion develop before I jump back in.

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Post by wd4gdz » Mon Apr 02, 2007 2:52 pm

I think 99% of the questions were great. I only disliked two tossups:

Nernst Equation: easy first clue (also the same first sentence as Sectionals)
Pragmatic Sanction: easy first clue / transparent

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Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Apr 02, 2007 3:13 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:[stuff]
I'm reciting this song from memory here, so forgive me if I get it wrong, but I think it goes like this:
"Amen! Amen! Amen, Amen, Amen!"

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Post by DumbJaques » Mon Apr 02, 2007 4:05 pm

Perhaps if everyone here is citing the same like ~5 tossups that weren't quite as awesome as the rest of the tournament, ACF nationals 2007 was pretty solid. Just a thought.

Also, best bonus conversion in the field was 16 ppb. This year's set served the function of ACF nationals by determining the best team and ensuring the questions didn't prevent a better team from winning a given game. Honestly, it probably could've still served that function by being easier (if everyone was putting up 3-5 more ppb, I doubt the results would have been different). I do think there were a few things that were just a little bit out there in terms of answer selection, but aside from perhaps the final editors packet, I don't really think the set abused 80+% of the field. I'd say the set could have gone a little easier, but was well within the range it needed to be to accomplish its job. Everyone who put it together should be commended. Everyone who didn't send a packet in should be killed and have their possessions given to the temple of Shamash.

One thing I will note is that, while I understand the desire to branch out and ask about the many, many good and important works of literature that are not yet canonical, I think this set overreached a bit. In my opinion ACF nats is a very good place to expand the canon, in all subjects, but I think a little more expansion space was allotted within literature than probably should have been, if you follow me. Particularly on bonuses, I would have liked to see a bit more restraint in this area.

Again, it's clear that all of our criticisms (okay, almost all of them) are pretty much the same and point out one or two minor things that weren't perfect. This was a great tournament and I certainly look forward to many more like it.


Also, you didn't give me my neg prize. Bastards.

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Post by vandyhawk » Mon Apr 02, 2007 4:31 pm

I agree with the sentiments of Jerry, Mike, Billy, Andrew, etc. The only tossups I remember being notably bad were the ones already mentioned, and in general, they did a very good job of allowing deeper teams to buzz first while not being so hard that the worse teams couldn't answer many of them by the end. I figured Andrew's explanation of the varying bonus difficulty was the case, and additionally, it felt like there were a lot more 30-able science bonuses than lit bonuses, but who knows. This year's overall stats compared to the last one I played, '05, made this set much more enjoyable than that year. Thanks to all the editors for their work.

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Post by cvdwightw » Mon Apr 02, 2007 4:41 pm

I'm going to echo a lot of what Chris said. Outside of the few clunkers, the tossups were pyramidal, well-written, and generally accessible. The bonuses usually had a decent ramp from medium-hard-very hard. The literature did seem like it was expanding the canon significantly more than other areas, and so resulted in a lot of sitting to make absolutely sure on easy questions that there wasn't a harder work with a similar clue.

I disagree with Chris that the best teams should be averaging over 20 ppb. When bonuses are either too hard (many teams are <10 ppb) or too easy (most good teams are >20 ppb), the packets place way too much emphasis on converting tossups. Having most teams between 10 and 20 ppb allows better teams to win on bonus points even if they're getting slightly out-tossuped due to buzzer races and such.

I think I said last year that I probably wasn't going to go this year because it was too hard (and yes, that was after a large scaling down from 2004 and 2005). Maybe I just learned a heck of a lot between then and now, but I thought slightly increasing tossup (answer selection) accessibility and moving more of the ridiculously obscure stuff to the "very hard" part bonuses kept me more involved and made it more fun this year.

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Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Mon Apr 02, 2007 5:14 pm

DumbJaques wrote: One thing I will note is that, while I understand the desire to branch out and ask about the many, many good and important works of literature that are not yet canonical, I think this set overreached a bit. In my opinion ACF nats is a very good place to expand the canon, in all subjects, but I think a little more expansion space was allotted within literature than probably should have been, if you follow me. Particularly on bonuses, I would have liked to see a bit more restraint in this area.
Can you think of some examples of questions in this area that overreached? I don't necesarily agree or disagree with your point, but specific examples would help make any debate that ensues more constructive. Thanks.

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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 02, 2007 5:55 pm

The Shock Master wrote:Can you think of some examples of questions in this area that overreached? I don't necesarily agree or disagree with your point, but specific examples would help make any debate that ensues more constructive. Thanks.
I thought a tossup on A Vision was pretty out there, although that's the only thing occurring to me right now. Much of the literature difficulty happened in the bonuses, and since I didn't write those down, I'll have to wait until I get the packets.
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Post by DumbJaques » Mon Apr 02, 2007 6:15 pm

I thought a tossup on A Vision was pretty out there, although that's the only thing occurring to me right now. Much of the literature difficulty happened in the bonuses, and since I didn't write those down, I'll have to wait until I get the packets.
Ditto. I'll look through the packets and try to find some specific stuff when I get my hands on them. And I'm not saying that the presence of one or two or X specific number of ridiculous shit questions is a problem, particularly as nationals is a great place for ridiculous shit, and I'm sure my definition of ridiculous shit is quite different than most players' anyway. I do, however, maintain that there was a slightly undesirable ratio of canon reaches to mainstream stuff in literature, and that in particular that ratio was much more dramatic within the literature questions than elsewhere in the tournament.
I disagree with Chris that the best teams should be averaging over 20 ppb. When bonuses are either too hard (many teams are <10 ppb) or too easy (most good teams are >20 ppb), the packets place way too much emphasis on converting tossups. Having most teams between 10 and 20 ppb allows better teams to win on bonus points even if they're getting slightly out-tossuped due to buzzer races and such.
I wasn't really saying the best teams should be getting 20+ ppb. It's fine if nobody breaks that number, I was just submitting that I didn't think the tournament's outcome would be significantly different if people were getting a few more ppb. Keep in mind that with only 2 teams even broke 15, so if this set experience a very, very extreme 5 ppb increase, only two would even break 20. I was more thinking that if the bonuses were, like, 2-3 ppb easier, so to speak, it would have been slightly more ideal. This was, obviously, just fine for the tournament's purposes.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Apr 02, 2007 8:09 pm

Andrew makes a number of reasonable arguments; I agree with almost none of them.

I think it is mostly irrelevant how many points per game or points per bonus teams scored at this tournament; I'm not really interested in those empirical stats. (note though - as I state above - I thought the bonus difficulty was just fine on average). In my mind, nationals is a tournament that should be at a certain level of difficulty no matter what. It should be a tournament that pushes the existing canon and forces teams to prove that they can play on that level of difficulty. Now, look, I've very recently said that I wholeheartedly support controlling difficulty at all kinds of tournaments (regionals, etc.) and making them more broadly accessible. But, I'm inclined to think that nats should simply be "nats difficulty," with no charity or other consideration.

Also, everyone who knows what they're talking about knows that you can't gauge difficulty merely by looking at answer selection, give that argument and its attendant condescension a rest. Yes, a tossup on Schumann or the optic nerve can be very difficult because of the clues it contains. I've certainly written umpteen tossups on very common gettable subjects and injected fresh and harder clues into them; all the good writers do that all the time. But, part of the whole point of nats should be that it doesn't feel the need to do that very often. Part of the point should be that you get to hear that tu on Pryderi instead of the one you'd write on pigs for another tournament (there are better examples). I like the feeling of "wow, didn't expect a tossup on that" or "hmm, don't think I've ever seen a tu on that," and I think that teams should have to answer those types of tossups at nats to be successful. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be a good mix of easy and medium tu answers too, of course there should be, it's pointless to just pick hard stuff for the sake of picking hard stuff. My argument is simply that this tourney seemed to consciously put a lid on difficulty, making it significantly lower than last year in relative terms, and that this is not an objective that should be pursued.

Lastly, I'm quite sympathetic to the problem of late submissions; obviously this is a chronic problem that plagues the production of decent tournaments. And, nats has thankfully set a pretty high standard for itself; though it was a fine event, I just don't think this version hit that mark in terms of consistency and quality.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Apr 02, 2007 8:38 pm

Ryan Westbrook wrote:I think it is mostly irrelevant how many points per game or points per bonus teams scored at this tournament; I'm not really interested in those empirical stats.
Ryan Westbrook: the Joe Morgan of ACF

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Post by AKKOLADE » Mon Apr 02, 2007 10:13 pm

fireryanwestbrook.blogspot.com

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Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Apr 02, 2007 11:03 pm

leftsaidfred wrote:fireryanwestbrook.blogspot.com
I will admit two things:
1. I just attempted to violate my own second rule of blogs.
2. I was disappointed that I failed to do so due to the non-existence of my suborner.

MaS

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Post by millionwaves » Wed Apr 04, 2007 12:50 am

Well, now that those who have things to say about difficulty, various and sundry answers, and the like have all had their first go, I'd like to offer a perspective somewhat different than those so far.

I'm a freshman at UIUC, and as those of you who played Illinois B most likely guessed (and whoever was unlucky enough to have the first look at our packet), so was everyone else on that team.

We didn't do so hot; our best player managed 15 ppg, I personally had 5. We lost every game in our initial bracket, and only managed to win the last game that we played, to claim second to last place. Not the most inspiring of first tournaments for us as a team.

And yet - we all had a great time (save perhaps one - and he cooled down once the after party started, from what I understand), only the least of which was from traveling with each other and our teammates. We all had the pleasure of playing the best teams in the country, on what's considered to be one of the foremost tournaments in the country. We learned a lot about a lot of things, not the least of which is simply what the best is. We all have something to strive for, over the next 3 (more?) years. At this point in our careers, winning and losing at a tournament of this caliber is superfluous; what's important is that we're all inspired to work, improve, and continue to play until we reach the level of what we experienced on Saturday.

I'd also like to note that people were universally nice about playing the all-freshman team (to our faces, at least), and everyone seemed very welcoming indeed. I'm honestly proud to have joined such a community.

To conclude, I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to the editors, who put together a great tournament, to Zeke Berdichevsky in particular, who let me read during our off round, and Illinois A, who were quick to consent to bringing us along. We really do appreciate it, and perhaps you'll see us again at ACF Fall after we've had an intensive summer of improvement.

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Re: ACF Nationals Discussion

Post by setht » Fri Apr 06, 2007 1:29 am

I enjoyed myself greatly at Nationals. I think Zeke, Andrew, Paul, Adam, Matt, Raj and Jason (hope that was everyone) did a fine job editing and writing the set. In particular, I'll second Jerry in saying that the science set, at least the physical science part of it, seemed good--a nice change of pace from some of the insanity of the past couple years. I did also greatly enjoy many non-science questions, I just that it was refreshing to play a nationals set that didn't seem likely to elicit the usual complaints from us whiny science types.

I do agree with various other people that the bonuses weren't as consistent in difficulty as they have been the last two years. I think the most dramatic imbalance occurred in the playoff rounds, with the lit bonuses suddenly becoming much harder than the rest of the bonuses. I don't think I noticed any systematic issues in the prelim packets, but I felt that the lit bonuses in the playoff packets were much harder than in the prelim packets, while all the non-lit bonuses stayed at about the same difficulty. This is unfortunate, but I'm confident that Zeke and Andrew would have worked on this and greatly lessened the imbalance if they'd had more time.

Having said that the bonuses were not as consistent as they were in 2005 or 2006, I'll also say that I think the bonuses were, on average, significantly more reasonable than in 2005. I think they were also a bit easier than in 2006, but I don't really remember clearly, and I can't seem to find stats for 2006. I also think that the bonus difficulty at Nats should be about what it was this year or a bit easier, so I was pleased with this development.

Responding to some other responses: I think Ryan is insane, and not in that good way. Usually I'd be content to shake my head over his crazy notions of difficulty and the point of quizbowl, but I've heard there's talk of him working on next year's Nationals, and this alarms me. Ryan has shown that he's perfectly capable of writing and editing a good, challenging invitational tournament with the last couple MLKs, and it's my hope that perhaps, if every single person likely to attend ACF Nationals 2008 tells him that they don't want to see things get harder, he might take that to heart and rein himself in. Sadly, this hope is probably unfounded.

I don't buy Ryan's idea that there is (or should be) some standard of "Nationals difficulty" wholly separate from the field playing the tournament, the numbers that field puts up on the tournament set, etc. I'm not sure if he feels Nationals sets should be edited for posterity, or so that retired top-level players can look up the packets, nod wisely, and say "Yep, that sure is Nationals difficulty." I don't; I feel that tournaments should be produced with the tournament field as the only target audience, and that tournament statistics are the only useful way of quantifying whether a tournament was hard or easy.

I'm not really sure why Ryan feels a tossup on Pryderi would have been so much superior to the tossup on pigs I wrote. Pryderi is a border-line tossup subject, even at Nationals, but the pigs tossup had clues on, e.g., Hen Wen, who is certainly too hard for a tossup. Ryan, did you feel the pigs question got too easy too fast, or that pigs tossups have become passé, or what? I believe I have heard precisely 0 tossups on pigs in mythology in my entire career. Perhaps you couldn't bring yourself to believe that there would be a tossup at Nationals with an answer of "pigs." If this is the case, I must say I have zero sympathy for whatever argument you're trying to put forth. In fact, I would say that such tossups, using some reasonably canon-expanding clues on, e.g., Hen Wen and the Tale of Llud and Lleuelys, are pretty much the only good way to "push the canon and force teams to prove that they can play on that level of difficulty." If you know your Welsh myth, you can buzz early. If you don't, you will lose the question to any top team that does know the stuff, but you'll still have a shot at the question when it moves into the easier, later clues. I know there was at least one team that managed to buzz on the early material, so it wasn't a complete waste of verbiage. Frankly, I don't see how a tossup on Pryderi that most teams won't be able to convert is in any way superior.

Similarly, I'm not sure I see the gain in abandoning well-constructed tossups on violence or laughter or whatever in favor of Sorel. If the common-link tossups aren't written well that's a problem, but if they're fine, I think they're far preferable to tossups that will not get good conversion.

Based on my experiences at the last couple ACF Nats, my feeling is that rounds with several hard tossups do not "force teams to answer those tossups to be successful." Instead, such rounds turn into a struggle over the 15 reasonable tossups (or however many there are), and the random difference in subjects that are accessible vs. impossible means that teams with different strengths can be screwed or greatly advantaged (e.g., a team that doesn't know any science could catch a windfall against a science-heavy team if 3 of the science tossups are impossible).

I think that's it for now, I'm tired. Nats was good, Ryan is crazy, and I hope next year's Nats will be similarly good.

-Seth

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Re: ACF Nationals Discussion

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:58 am

setht wrote:
I don't buy Ryan's idea that there is (or should be) some standard of "Nationals difficulty" wholly separate from the field playing the tournament, the numbers that field puts up on the tournament set, etc. I'm not sure if he feels Nationals sets should be edited for posterity, or so that retired top-level players can look up the packets, nod wisely, and say "Yep, that sure is Nationals difficulty." I don't; I feel that tournaments should be produced with the tournament field as the only target audience, and that tournament statistics are the only useful way of quantifying whether a tournament was hard or easy.
I was going to weigh in eventually, if only so that Ryan didn't have the last word, but I see that Seth has more or less covered everything I wanted to say. Apparently it cannot be repeated often enough that "difficulty" is not a primary quality of packets, objectively inhering in the questions themselves. Rather, to strain this Lockian analogy, "difficulty" is a secondary quality, which only exists in relation to the people who play on them. For the top teams at ACF nationals, an IS set would be ludicrously easy; for a team of high school freshmen from Montana who first picked up a buzzer last month, those very same questions would be forbiddingly difficult. The editors of any tournament can only estimate a) the skill level of the average, or better than average, teams at the tournament, and b) the degree to which those teams want to be challenged by the questions. At ACF nationals, it is all too easy for an editor to peg both of those estimates far too high, though for the last two years Zeke and I have worked very hard to keep things in line. I really hope that future nationals editors will strive to continue that tradition of accessibility, rather than succumbing to spurious abstract notions of difficulty which must somehow be upheld, whether or not the actual teams at the tournament can score any points at all.

As a codicil, I'll note that one of the real difficulties of editing ACF nationals nowadays is that there are very few of the all-around "great" teams which stalked the land as recently as 2004 or 2005. In particular, I think some of the comments about the relative difficulty of the literature questions can be accounted for by noting that very few of the top teams at this year's nationals were especially knowledgable in that area. For example, a bonus on Edward P. Jones and his works completely stymied Chicago A; nonetheless, The Known World is perhaps the most lauded novel written in America in the last decade. The fact that nobody on the winning team at the tournament had so much as heard of it says more about their weakness on lit questions than about the inherent difficulty of the bonus.

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Re: ACF Nationals Discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:44 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:As a codicil, I'll note that one of the real difficulties of editing ACF nationals nowadays is that there are very few of the all-around "great" teams which stalked the land as recently as 2004 or 2005.
To belabor a point I frequently make in response to the Lamentations of Westbrook, I think there were very few such teams in 2004 and 2005 also. Of course, who can forget the Andrew/Subash juggernaut of '04 or Michigan's incredible '05 team? Regardless, if you look beyond the first and second place, I think very few teams back then would have more points per bonus than teams did at this tournament.
In particular, I think some of the comments about the relative difficulty of the literature questions can be accounted for by noting that very few of the top teams at this year's nationals were especially knowledgable in that area. For example, a bonus on Edward P. Jones and his works completely stymied Chicago A; nonetheless, The Known World is perhaps the most lauded novel written in America in the last decade. The fact that nobody on the winning team at the tournament had so much as heard of it says more about their weakness on lit questions than about the inherent difficulty of the bonus.
I have to confess to not knowing anything about Jones or The Known World, (though I did read about it at one point) but Carleton seemed to easily convert 20 points on that bonus; that said, it's not clear to me that someone with even a solid lit background would necessarily know about this book. I suppose much of it depends on how attuned one is to critical reviews and the contemporary literature scene. For me, it's something I frequently read about, but most of it doesn't stick because I rarely get to the literature itself.

And yeah, I'll echo Seth's call for next year's nationals not to go overboard to "compensate" for this year. Not that nationals should be easy or have only "well-known" answers, but this year's set was a good mixture of accessibility and difficulty, and I think the statistics show that. The best team won, the rankings seem to relatively accurately reflect the actual quality of the teams, and everyone seems pleased. I do like questions on hard topics, but maybe those are more appropriate for masters' level invites or something of the sort.
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Post by Matt Weiner » Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:55 pm

Next year's nationals should have equivalent tossups and even easier bonuses. The top teams should break 20, and given that it didn't happen this year, the questions will need to drop even further to compensate for further weakening of the field.

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Post by cvdwightw » Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:24 pm

How, exactly, is the field going to be further weakened? I'd guess most of the top bracket is going to be similar next year, there's going to be some undergrad player movement from teams in the second bracket, and some of the third bracket teams are going to get better. Unless there's a rash of retirements I haven't heard about, the quality of the field will probably be only slightly weaker than this year, and that may be compensated for with some players (like Jerry in the past couple years) evolving from very good players (solid contributors on teams in the hunt for championships) to great players (players who can lead those hunts for championships), as well as undergrads like Chris from Maryland and Kevin from Stanford, who put up reasonably good stats at their first ACF Nats tournament, getting better.

If you look at the overall field strength, not just the top teams, I think Jerry's right in that the average strength of the field has been roughly consistent over the past few years. If anything, player movement and the retirement of some of the giants of years past has "diluted" the nationals field. There are "pipelines" at places like Berkeley and Michigan that send their undergrads to create clubs at new schools as graduate students and get pre-existing clubs to start showing up to ACF Nationals. The retirement of several great players has created a more-or-less power vacuum. And so we have more parity than there used to be - there are a lot more schools who see being competitive at ACF Nationals (whether that means national championship competitive or just getting out of the bottom bracket) as a reachable goal rather than an impossibility. I think this year's set catered well to this "middle class" of clubs, who maybe don't have the depth to buzz on the ridiculously obscure stuff yet but can still have meaningful, close, reasonably scoring games. I'd think given the size and increasing strength of this class of clubs, an average team scoring an average of somewhere around 200 would be reasonable for ACF regionals, and I see the average clubs averaged somewhere just south of that this year. So, yeah, maybe the bonuses should be slightly easier, but I'd like to think think that would have more to do with making at least one part of the "impossible" bonuses more gettable rather than making the bonuses on the whole easier.

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Post by Rothlover » Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:42 pm

Dwight, offhand I am thinking of no A&M, no Matt Weiner, no Susan Ferrari, no Missah Kwalter, no Pat Hope, probably no Leo, half of Chicago B is graduating I think, though Bruce is going to Harvard? I dunno who else is going out, but the above accounts for a big drop. Harvard improving and going to nats and Noah improving and bringing Caltech will help a bit, but there should be a serious drop-off from the quality, balanced field of this year.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Fri Apr 06, 2007 9:06 pm

How I rejoice everytime Teitler calls me insane, which historically is approximately once every 2 or 3 months. Also, Seth, I didn't mean to pick on your pigs question - it was the only example I could quickly remember to cite, and indeed I say there are much better ones. Although I think it becomes kind of obvious when you realize you're in Celtic myth land and put together the pieces, it was a fine question and indeed I answered it. My broader point is that I didn't think the concept/common link tossups were all that great at nats - and also that I think they should generally play a pretty limited role here, because you have all that pretty answer space to explore without using those types of tus. But, that's really just my own proclivities.

My difficulty argument is that I tend to enjoy hearing a certain percentage of tossups at nationals that fit into what you might call the current "acf nats answer space" i.e. tus that nibble at the corners of the tossup canon (btw, I own a small summer home on the outer reaches of the canon that I'm looking to sublet - you can contact me at Albion Small plaza). Not an overwhelming percentage, and not an exclusion of other answer spaces - I'm just saying that my ideal would have been more than existed at this tourney, especially say in the playoff rounds. Particularly, I recall a lot of kind of ho-hum tossups on standard topics that seemed a little uninspired at this level (i.e. Nernst, Clausius-Clap, etc.) - though I'm just relying on attenuated memory, so this could be quite skewed as reviews of tourneys tend to be - certainly there are a number of counterexamples and what I thought were very good tu answers (Lennard-Jones, Phoenix Park, Marco Polo Bridge). The lasting impression I received was just sort of a determined intent to generally submerge difficulty on tu answers andplay it close to the vest. I sense someone like Jerry sympathizes to some extent, but many of the people who do are probably quite a bit more realistic than I with these matters.

Anyway, I'll take off my eccentric and batshit crazy hat; I didn't really mean to make difficulty the crux of my take on this year's nats. I thought there were considerable quality and consistency issues too - particularly in the last three or so packets of the regular rounds and the editor's packets.

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Comments

Post by salamanca » Sat Apr 07, 2007 3:22 pm

Hi,

While I think much of the important issues have been covered by previous posts. I just wanted to note that, given the context of his own QB career, I don’t think Ryan’s criticisms are that out of line—after all, his introduction to ACF play occurred at Michigan during the height of Quizbowl dominance (w/the exception of Berkeley) in the Midwest.

He played really tough teams in practice and really tough teams at tournaments. Moreover, he played at hard ass events regularly: including the Artaud, the Auspicious Incident, the Manu, the notorious 2005 Nationals, etc. His QB personality/approach to the game was formed during an era that placed a premium on being able to compete on questions that regularly pushed canonical boundaries. However, this period also coincided with an erosion in ACF attendance and a growing perception that the “average” team not only couldn’t compete at ACF events, but couldn’t even answer enough questions to make it entertaining and/or worthwhile.

Now when I started grad school, I probably would’ve agreed with Ryan’s criticisms of the set. But the evolution and success of some of the past ACF Regionals has taught me that you can differentiate between the best teams w/o resorting to TUs on Thomas Traherne. In fact, the development of open events actually (esp. stuff like Subash’s more reined in Chicago Opens) makes it possible not to have to use Nationals as launch pad for canon expansion. To grow the game—and until a new generation of players begins to master the canon as it is (and the PPB certainly shows that they haven’t) and clamors for new stuff to play on—ACF needs to stabilize difficulty somewhat. In that spirit, Andrew and I did consciously try to cap difficulty (though the lit bonuses in the Playoffs demonstrate that we didn’t quite finish the job, and I feel bad for that) and I think that future editors should heed that approach…

To put it bluntly: I think those of us (e.g. folks in charge of editing for ACF or those who regularly ran/wrote ACF style events) have to (re)introduce the game to folks who feel as though it has passed them by, and we can’t do that if Nationals ramps the difficulty up so precipitously that teams are demoralized…

Finally, I wanted to say that I was really impressed by what I saw out of the younger players and teams at this tournament. Chicago was extremely consistent and they deserved their title, but, from what I saw, there are a host of squads ready to challenge them next year.

Again, thank you for attending and for all of your commentary on the set,
Ezequiel

PS—for those who purchased a set, the questions will be sent out tonight or tomorrow

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